Thursday, May 31, 2012

Endings and Beginnings


The Summer Day

Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?



I keep writing and erasing, trying to be clever, trying to be amusing, but right now I am neither. There are many little deaths in letting go of this, this wonderful American Dream we have lived. It pains me that I will no longer be a part of the community at this school of my son's; that I will not walk the hallways and know everyone by name; that I will no longer be hugged  and called to by a dozen different children before I reach my destination; that I will no longer watch them master a word or learn to correctly place a comma; that I won't get to listen to their perfect brand of logic, trying to keep a grave expression on my face; that they will no longer question my rings and necklaces and bracelets and earrings, wanting to try them on, wanting to know why I wear so much jewelry, wanting to know why it is all so big. 

I will miss the familiar back roads where pheasants once flew and no houses stood. I will miss the perfect rolls of hay that dot the farming landscape. I will miss the owls calling and the frogs peeping. I will miss the firework show of fireflies in the cornfields. I will miss throwing snowy clothes into the dryer and my son's cold ruddy cheeks as he drinks the hot chocolate that serves only as a vehicle for his marshmallows.

And yet, and yet, I know that I regret only the things I chose not to do and the opportunities to which I've said no. I know that I have only this one life and yet so many ways in which it can be lived. I know that I will make new attachments and find pleasure in new things: the red geraniums tumbling through the wrought iron terraces; the  smell of fresh fruit in the outdoor market; the lit candles devoted to the Virgin Mary in an unexpected crevice of an urban building; sitting at a cafe and drinking iced espresso, the dogs dreaming at my feet on the warm cobblestone. 

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Getting the visas

The waiting room at the Italian Consulate's office is briefly mentioned in Dante's Inferno as the first circle of hell (limbo). There may or may not be some irony as to its location in the Tourists' Section of the city. If you should ever need to enter that room, a room that exists only in bad film noirs, you must bring every possible item you can think of above and beyond what the consulate has asked in exchanged for your visa. People sit nervously in hard plastic chairs, surrounded by boxes and boxes of their belongings in hopes of having the correct ones. Bring the deed to your house, your report card from fourth grade, a year's list of grocery receipts and seven pieces of junk mail. No matter what you bring, it will not be enough; it will not be correct; you will be dismissed. This is our second trip to this room.We are loaded down with our son's baby shoes and our dog's favorite chew toy. I have some old textbooks, a box of greeting cards, and coupons to Target. We will not be turned away. We have had a star named after the overweight Italian woman behind the counter.

There will be an Indian family whose polite patriarch will try again and again to give the woman behind the bullet proof glass his itinerary. One of his sons sits slumped in an ill-fitting suit, speaking disrespectful teenage-ease to his mother, and the other son slurps  down Activia yogurts. With no spoon. It sprays across the back of his hand like a snot-filled sneeze. Although he will lick it off, some will cling to the four hairs he is growing from his chinney chin chin.

They will be sent away. No soup for them.

There will be an African man trying to enter Italy for his daughter's wedding. He does not have the correct change necessary for a visa and the CONSULATE DOES NOT PROVIDE CHANGE. Despite all of the waiting room juggling through purses and wallets, we cannot come up with the exact change he needs. He is banished.

There will be an excited American couple who have rented their home in Virginia, rented a home in Italy, and enrolled their three children in an Italian school. They will begin their Italian life in August. The woman behind the glass is suspicious. How can they do this?  How will they support themselves? They trip over each other in their delight to explain they are taking a year off to travel the Italian country. They have the requisite $100,000 to pay for their visas. The Guard of Visas is not happy. Faced with her silence, the husband opens his mouth to convince her of their plan. He explains that he owns his own business. If need be, he can work for his American clients over the Internet. Checkmate. He has now threatened to take away a job from an Italian. How do they know he will not enter Italy and try to work? He must apply for a new visa, a working visa. This will take 4 months to process. Their plane tickets and house rentals begin in a month and a half. No amount of arguing on their behalf saves them. The man tries speaking Italian. They are dismissed, the wife in tears of frustration. We wish we could help them. We all know it's the husband's fault.

A beautiful girl, dressed in the type of matching velour sweatsuit worn by JLO when she dated Puff Daddy before he became PDiddy, is there to pick-up her passport. Nothing has gone wrong. Her passport is there. "Muchos grazie," she says to the Italian woman.  It is very lucky that the girl is already clutching her passport. The Italian Consulate Woman does not like the mixing of Spanish and Italian. Her nostrils flare and the magenta stripes in her hair quiver with indignation.

And then there is just us.

We have now been there for over two hours. The office closed at 12:00. It is 12:45. At any minute a steel gate will close and we will be sent away. Our son will be getting home from school, getting off the bus in 3 hours. We still have a 2 1/2 hour drive.

Mike approaches the glass. I stand to his right and slightly behind. It seems safer. "I promise we'll be fast," Mike says to her, The Woman Behind the Glass. And the Guard, the Gargoyle of the Church of Italy, preventing all evil foreigners from entering the country looks up. She has several rings on every finger and enough necklaces to earn the respect of Mr. T. She has a nose ring the size of a grandmother's clip-on earring. She is anywhere between 75 years of age and dead. And she laughs, displaying a mouth filled with gold teeth. She laughs. Hints of magic fairy dust glimmer in the air as Mike waves his hands. It appears there may be a rainbow in a halo around his head. She is smiling, and it is not in anticipation of denying our entry into Italy.

She looks at our passports and senior portraits and last year's Christmas card. She taps the picture of our son with one very long nail. "He is cute," she says. "He looks like you,"she says to Mike. She smiles at me as well, perhaps because I was the vessel for the child who looks like Mike.

"You have been to Roma?" she asks. We don't know the right answer. Our passports say yes, but should we say no?

"Are you from Rome?" Prince Charming Charming-est asks, wisely choosing to answer a question with a question.

"No, I am from Milan,"she replies. "But you will like Roma. All of Italy...it is the best. You will love. So much culture; so much to do. So beautiful and the food.You will enjoy your life."

Mike speaks to her in Italian. She laughs. The cleaners are vacuuming the floor around us, waiting for us to be dismissed. We have made it to the final round. She adds up our visa fees. We have three money orders for the same amount as instructed by the Italian Consulate Office.

There is a problem. Our son is half price. Our money order is for too much money. They do not provide change. We must give her cash in the exact amount. Mike has one $20 bill and a fistful of ones. I have ones as well. We count it three times. We have the exact dollar amount and not one single dollar more to our names. The necessary change is .30. I have only one quarter and one dime. This may be the deal breaker where all the jenga sticks come tumbling down. Mike hands her the money. All of the ones make her laugh(!!) yet again. We cannot breathe as she looks at the change, over by a nickel. She tosses it into a metal box filled with cash and doesn't count it.

She seems surprised that we are still standing there, frozen like rabbits praying they aren't spotted and devoured. "You are done, " she says, waving her heavily jeweled hands at us. We back away, bowing and scraping, being careful to never turn our backs to her. We close the door to the office of the Italian Consulate. We are one step closer to our move.